Eighty-six percent of college first-years nationwide selected the ability to secure a better job as a “very important” factor in choosing to attend college – this compared to only 72 percent that chose gaining “a general education and appreciation of ideas” as very important, according to the 2011 Cooperative Institutional Research Program freshman survey.
The survey also found that a school’s reputation for producing alums with high-paying jobs is the second-highest priority for students choosing a college. Fifty-five percent of students placed this perception of job placement success as a “very important” factor, a seven percent jump from 1983, said John Pryor, director of CIRP, which is conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute. The academic reputation of a school has consistently remained the highest priority for survey respondents.
This early concern about career choice stems from students’ anxieties about their economic futures, especially if they accrue a significant financial burden while in school.
“A lot of (students) are motivated by the fact that they’ve got some fairly large loans they’ve got to pay back,” Pryor said.
Though some college students express an interest in working for nonprofits, he said, organizations in the public sector suffer because they cannot offer salaries comparable to those of more lucrative private sector jobs. “The answer is, typically, ‘I can’t afford to do that,’” Pryor said.
He added that students from low-income backgrounds “place more of a premium on getting a job after graduation.”
Robin Mount, director of career, research and international opportunities at Harvard’s Office of Career Services, wrote in an email to The Herald that she observes different employment trends for Harvard undergraduates depending on their socioeconomic backgrounds.
Students from low-income backgrounds often look for high-paying jobs they can use to help other members of their families, Mount wrote, though some also head to nonprofits to give back to their own communities. Students from more privileged backgrounds, meanwhile, often have more freedom following graduation, she wrote.
“They have resources or connections that may help them connect to unique opportunities (such as working in politics if a parent is an elected official),” Mount wrote. “They may have more resources to take time off and travel or resources to start their own enterprise.”
But Mount stressed that these general trends do not apply to all Harvard graduates. Students from high-income backgrounds can also be drawn to nonprofits.
Despite such apparent differences, Mount said she has observed peer effects among students from all backgrounds. Crimson graduates often pursue careers – within either the public or private sector – similar to those already popular among fellow students, she said.
And that job search is often a shock, regardless of socioeconomic background.
“Going into the job market is like nothing you’ve ever dealt with before if you’re a student who’s been in school their entire life,” said Andrew Simmons, director of the University’s CareerLAB.
Sam Byker ’10, a history and economics concentrator and former Herald senior staff writer, recalled that it was “really hard to find jobs in the government” as a college senior.
“There might be great jobs out there, but I couldn’t find them as a student,” said Byker, who is now an associate at Boston Consulting Group.
“In my job search, no nonprofit or government job I could get out of college would let me make a direct impact. … In entry-level positions, I could end up filing papers, fetching coffee and writing briefs that no one reads,” he added.
He said that as a senior, he realized that “it didn’t matter if I was in the field I wanted to be in long-term right out of college. … I wanted to be challenged and be at a place that would give me real work and treat me like an adult right out of college.”
“The only thing I thought that could do that was consulting,” he said.
Of the 67 percent of Brown graduates who entered the workforce after graduation in 2011, 20 percent – 171 students - worked in either consulting or finance. Teach for America was the top employer of graduates, followed by Google and Goldman Sachs.
A familiar process
When undergraduates “look into the future and see something that’s not structured, that’s scary,” Simmons said.
Schools provide “reliability and an effort-reward-feedback structure,” he said. Therefore, paths that are structured – professional schools, finance and consulting jobs and TFA, for example – are enticing to students, he said, because these options provide a familiar system in which effort and achievement meet rewards. These positions help students continue the familiar feedback loop of tangible rewards for achievement – except in the job market, rewards come in the form of offers rather than As.
Ellen Perez ’12, who is planning to join TFA in the fall, said other jobs she looked into had application processes far less organized than that of TFA. As a religious studies concentrator, she talked to professors to learn about available jobs related to her concentration -but after sending emails, resumes and writing samples, she said she barely heard back.
It was frustrating to send resumes “to this void and not know when you’ll hear back,” Perez said. TFA, on the other hand, set a timeline that outlined when applicants would receive a decision. “When the next couple of years are riding on this, you don’t want an unstructured process,” she said.
Several days before hearing the outcome of her TFA application, she said it felt “like (being a senior) in high school again, waiting to hear back from college.”
For jobs in finance and consulting, the path toward a career can begin in earnest as early as a student’s junior year, said Jeanne Branthover, managing director at Boyden Executive Search. Branthover’s clients include top firms like J.P. Morgan and Bloomberg.
“My clients very often won’t even take someone for an internship unless they’re a junior … They look seriously at that age group because they have the ability to test what someone can do before making an offer if they have openings.”
Lisa Berlin ’12 will work at Bank of America Merrill Lynch as an investment banking analyst after interning there the summer after her junior year. Berlin started on the path to a financial services job in the fall of her junior year, attending information sessions hosted by financial institutions on campus. She also applied for and received an invitation to attend the “Wall Street Warm-Up” program, a day-long seminar where she met current employees and learned basic finance concepts.
The role of recruiters
Employers play a crucial role in determining the success of the University’s career center – they alone dictate how accessible jobs are to students.
“If they decide that they want to recruit, they’re going to recruit,” Simmons said. “Part of what we do in our office is go out there and talk to employers and say, ‘If you’re going to recruit, please come to Brown.’”
Bain and Company employees visit Brown six to eight times a year to host a variety of events, including large information sessions, more intimate group sessions at coffee shops and workshops during which students can practice case interviews used in the hiring process, said Ben Siegal ’08, a consultant at Bain who leads the company’s recruiting efforts at Brown.
Bain devotes “a great deal of resources” to its recruiting efforts, Siegal said. “The team is made up of consulting staff at different levels from associate consultant – the position that recent graduates start out in – to consultant, all the way up to top manager and partner,” he said. “We take recruiting very seriously. Getting the right people is critical for our success and keeping the Bain culture as we want it.”
Branthover also stressed the importance of recruiting for interested firms.
Companies “want to hire a certain amount of students from specific schools. It’s an incredible opportunity for students to be interviewed by a company,” she said.
The process also exposes students to companies they may not have otherwise known about, Branthover added.
Stephen Ting ’07, a neuroscience concentrator, said he planned on attending medical school after graduation. But during the fall of senior year, he said he began to question whether medical school was the right decision for him.
Either way, he knew he wanted to work in the health care industry, and consulting stood out to him both because it was something he had heard of students pursuing and because recruiters were present on campus.
“At Brown, in terms of recruiting, there were very limited options within the health care industry,” he said. He decided to apply for consulting jobs mostly “for practical reasons.”
He received offers from three boutique consulting firms, ultimately deciding to accept an offer at IMS Health.
Because of the importance of on-campus recruiting, Simmons said the CareerLAB has “made a big effort in the last year and a half to bring in more of the nonprofit, socially-oriented types of employers,” adding that the center makes an effort to connect students with recruiters from industries beyond finance and consulting.
But the problem with nonprofit recruiting is that most employers, with the exception of TFA, do not have financial resources comparable to finance and consulting firms, Simmons said.
As chief of staff for three and a half years at CARE, a humanitarian organization that aims to combat global poverty, Joe Iarocci ’81 P ’13 said he has seen firsthand the effects of the lack of recruiting resources among nonprofits. Iarocci, who serves on the board of three public sector organizations – Citizen Effect, Social Accountability International, and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits – said the key for getting a job in the nonprofit world is “to take initiative,” adding “there’s not a lot of hand-holding in the nonprofit sector.”
But Byker, the associate at the Boston Consulting Group, said he does not think considerable financial resources are necessarily a prerequisite for successful recruiting.
“The things that would be required to replicate what consulting firms do is to have a program that is structured – some area on the company’s website that outlines what students will do, has a clear application process and promises the opportunity to do interesting work,” he said.
Angela Callado, a TFA recruitment manager, said that “when you have huge finance firms coming to campus who have the money to really recruit and get in front of kids, it can be hard to make other options seem appealing.”
But TFA manages to impress students on College Hill – the organization was the top employer for graduating seniors in the Class of 2011. Callado follows a recruiting regimen that targets different students throughout the year. In the fall, she comes to Brown to meet specifically with seniors. She also visits the campus in April for five to six days to meet with juniors and organizes at least one event a year targeted to underclassmen.
Perez, a senior who will be teaching in Phoenix as part of TFA next year, said she originally filled out part of the application online but never completed it.
But a meeting with Callado in a cafe near campus, during which she heard about Callado’s personal experiences working for TFA, convinced her to complete her application, she said. “The fact that they reached out to me and showed me there would be a lot of support … was definitely a motivating factor,” she said.
TFA has staked out a prominent position in on-campus recruiting at other schools, too. Tom Brinkley, executive director of corporate and employer relations at the Student Professional Development Center at Elon University in North Carolina, said TFA has an impressive operation that gives it an edge over nonprofits with fewer resources.
“I think they have gotten very sophisticated in their recruitment efforts,” said Melanie Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Global Education and Career Development Center, adding that she believes TFA attracts many students because of its well-known brand name in the nonprofit sector and reputation for helping its alums get into graduate school.
Favoring the Ivy League: A cyclical relationship
Brown students also benefit from a strong alumni presence in these firms, which proves helpful in gaining entrance into the most popular career fields.
“Connections always count,” Branthover said. “I know some of the top senior executives of companies that take it upon themselves to go to their school to do the recruiting for their company.”
Ting said that many employers recruit and hire applicants who earned undergraduate degrees from the same universities as people already working at the firm. At the two health care consulting firms where he has worked, 95 percent of the employees have come from Ivy League schools or MIT, he said.
“Other top schools … like Duke (University) or (the University of Virginia) are represented in the very minority” of employees at these firms, he said.
At the Big Three consulting firms – Bain, BCG and McKinsey and Company – Ting said “only 80 percent of the employees” come from the Ivy League.
Ting said his personal experiences working in the hiring process at his consulting firm allow him to see the process from both the applicant’s and the recruiter’s perspective.
“You know these companies are specifically looking at Brown, and how it works
is if they’ve hired someone from Brown before, then they know they’ve had success at this school,” he said. “From the company’s perspective, they know that Brown alums perform well.”
As an undergraduate, Ting “assumed that if (recruiters) were going to go through the Brown recruiting portal, that was probably my best shot at getting a job. When I went outside that recruiting channel, maybe just cold resume-dropping at companies, I never heard back from any of them … not even a ‘we’re not interested’ email.”
This trend of hiring primarily from the Ivy League, he said, is the result of a cycle in which people look to prove their own schools’ worth by hiring its students. “It would weaken their own validity, coming from a liberal arts Ivy League school, if they hire from other schools, even if those schools might have finance-based programs and more vocational training,” he said.
But not all employers share Ting’s view on recruiting trends.
Siegal said he likes recruiting at Brown because he knows students on campus want to “make a difference in the world.”
“People from Brown do well at Bain, and we have quite a few Brown alums. It’s a great team. I take a lot of pride in bringing more people from a place that I love, Brown, into a firm that I love, Bain.”
But Branthover said the prevalence of Ivy League graduates in such jobs may not be directly correlated with alumni presence in the field. “No matter what, the better the school you went to, the better your chances of getting a job,” she said. “In today’s world, coming from a good school, where graduates are considered the best and the brightest, definitely gives you an edge in the interview process.”
Peter Voth, a first-year at the College of William and Mary, is double majoring in computer science and finance. He said even though his school’s alumni network in these industries is not as large as an Ivy League school’s, he does not think students like himself are at a big disadvantage.
“As a student, if you know what you want, you can still stand out in your field of expertise,” he said. But he added that if his school was “closer to New York, we would get a better look, and I kind of think that’s unfair. But I think deep down inside, if you want to make it happen, you can do it.”
Silicon Valley: Beyond finance and consulting
Technology companies also attract a high share of graduates – 10 percent of those heading straight to the workforce after graduating in the class of 2011.
In the high-tech industry, prominent firms focus their recruitment efforts on target schools, just as finance and consulting firms do.
Students in the University’s computer science department are able to take advantage of the Industrial Partners Program, a collaboration with the tech industry started two decades ago that has evolved into a key on-campus recruiting tool for companies like Adobe, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Firms pay up to $25,000 for varying levels of “premier” or “affiliate” membership in the program, which enables them to send recruiters to the University, according to the department website.
“Everybody’s pretty psyched about where it is now,” said Amy Tarbox, manager of the Industrial Partners Program, who added that many alums who found jobs through the initiative are now returning to campus as recruiters.
Eric Caruso ’14, a Herald web staffer who will work as an intern at Facebook this summer, said the program made his recruitment process simple. Facebook’s ability to recruit extensively on campus was a significant factor in his decision to seek an internship at the company, he said.
Many computer science students said they were attracted by larger firms’ ability to provide both greater opportunities and more job security. Hannah Acheson-Field ’15 said she worked at a smaller startup last summer but that the wealth of opportunities afforded by larger firms like Google won her attention.
Ben Leib ’12, who will work at Twitter after graduating this spring, said he chose to work at the well-known company because it combined the exciting feel of a new venture with the maturity of a larger firm.
“I didn’t really apply to any smaller places that offer more equity … it’s obviously a lot riskier,” Leib said, explaining that he prefers working for higher compensation at a large tech firm rather than working for small companies that offer shares of company stock, or equity, in lieu of a higher salary. “I’d like to have more of a sure thing.”
Many students decide the startup path is not worth giving up the chance to work at a more established company, Leib said. The recruiting structure only bolsters this trend, Leib said, providing larger companies an even more significant advantage on campus.
“It’s a lot harder to find smaller startups with a lot of them not actively recruiting at Brown,” he said.
Still, Tarbox said other students decide to join startup companies and are not swayed by the high salaries given by larger firms. “I don’t think that anybody who wants to do a startup would suddenly want to work at a large corporation,” she said, describing the independent attitude of many computer science concentrators as a reflection of the University’s distinctive character.
An alternative to the job market
For those who choose to enter graduate or professional school immediately after leaving the University – 22 percent of the class of 2011 – financial considerations are still a factor.
“Finances, especially for professional schools, are a lot different,” said Seth Mohney ’11, a political science concentrator who is now a student at the University of Michigan Law School. “It definitely was a concern because it’s more debt than you’re used to.”
Mohney said he decided the extra debt was worth it because of the increased appeal to employers he will have after finishing law school.
The recent decline in available legal jobs did not cause him to consider forgoing law school, Mohney said, because he knew his Brown education would prepare him for the rigors of attending a top-tier law school, a path he said would likely lead to a secure job.
In the fall 2011 admissions cycle, 91 percent of applicants from the University were accepted into law school, compared to a national average of 71 percent, according to the University website.
Mohney said the decline in legal hires was a larger problem for graduates of lower-tier law schools. “Essentially, the market’s oversaturated with lawyers, so it’s tough for these newly founded law schools that are just trying to pump out lawyers,” Mohney said.
“I knew when I got out of law school, I’d get a job that would help me pay off any debts I incurred,” said Richard Smith ’12, an economics concentrator who will attend the University of Texas School of Law in the fall. “I didn’t really have another job I wanted to have.”
financial concerns were a significant factor in his decision about where to attend law school, so he was diligent in seeking out scholarships. Minimizing the costs of three years of law school forced him to consider his options carefully, but law school was the right choice for him, he said.
Andrew Horne ’11, a classics PhD student at the University of Chicago, said he felt no need to enter the private sector after four undergraduate years. He did say he had to weigh the financial costs of pursuing an advanced degree, deciding that attending graduate school in the United Kingdom, which he had originally considered, was too costly.
Securing a job after receiving a PhD is a worry for many graduate students, Horne said. But he added he believes his work will provide him with skills applicable to many areas.
Horne said most of his academic advisors, peers and friends at the University encouraged him to pursue research and graduate school, so he felt little pressure to consider a career in a high-paying field like finance or consulting. His peer group was key in molding his post-graduating plans, he said.
“If I had more contact with econ or engineering, I think that would have been a different story.”
But why exactly are students drawn to consulting and finance? For some, an entry-level position in these industries is a logical next step in their path to a greater goal where they can accumulate marketable skills before moving elsewhere.
“All companies really like people who have a consulting background, whether it be (General Electric) or Bloomberg, big financial services, big manufacturing firms or big technology companies,” said Branthover, the executive search director at Boyden.
And students are attracted to the allure of such future opportunities. Byker said he thinks the skills he is gaining at BCG will benefit him both in law school and in his future legal career.
“If you want all the tools to have a great career, there are some interim steps you need to take after graduation,” Byker said. “Your education doesn’t end after you leave college, and a job can be part of that education.”
Samantha Sanders ’13, a Program in Liberal Medical Education student and history concentrator, is interning at McKinsey this summer because she wants to eventually become a hospital administrator, she said. “Consulting opens you up to more general business models and the larger world out there,” she said. She said she plans to take time off after graduation before starting medical school and would “love to work in consulting” during this interim. “Other jobs don’t give you the power consulting does at that young an age,” she added.
Professor of Economics Ross Levine said the financial industry’s ability to provide entry-level employees the chance to continue to learn is a prime reason for students flocking to the field. “Students are looking at salaries, exciting opportunities for growth and to learn more, and the financial industry will continue to offer those opportunities,” Levine said.
Robbie Greenglass ’07, a public and private sector organizations concentrator, a predecessor to Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations, worked in investment banking at CIBC World Markets for three years after graduation. He said the job provided him with “twice the experience” he could have gained at a different job. The analyst job was appealing because he “could get (his) feet wet quickly, understand how the financial system worked and how companies worked … and gain those analytical skills that would be transferable to other jobs later.”
The responsibility he was given soon after joining the company was also appealing, he said. “You get thrown into the fire from the start, and you have to figure it out on your own.”
That sense of responsibility contributed to Berlin’s decision to accept her job offer from Bank of America Merrill Lynch after completing her summer internship, she said.
Though the promise of an exciting and stimulating work life is appealing, it is not always the reality, Ting said. “The way consultants describe the work they do, it seems really cool. They work with clients and help clients solve problems. That’s true, but there is definitely this mysticism and allure to consulting,” he said.
“Day in and day out, consulting is not as sexy as it was pitched to you. … Half of the part of consulting we do is kind of outsourced, dull work for wealthy companies so they don’t have to do it themselves,” Ting added. “What we do isn’t super challenging or exciting.”
Byker provided a different viewpoint about his day-to-day tasks as a consultant.
“The work isn’t always interesting – that’s for sure – but you really are doing the same thing as higher-level people,” he said.
“In my first year, once or twice a week, I would travel by myself to factories around the country and interview people. The fact that they trusted me, as a very recent college graduate, to go alone to totally foreign places, talk to a bunch of people, represent the company, come back, turn what I learned into something meaningful for a client, was awesome,” he said. “I don’t think there are many places where you could do something like that immediately after college.”
TFA also provides its members with trust, responsibility and opportunities to develop skills applicable to different jobs, Callado said. As teachers, corps members hone management, leadership and multitasking skills, she said.
The program enhances future job prospects for corps members, Callado said, especially those interested in education policy or law, by providing them with “hands-on experience with the issues students are facing.”
Finance and consulting jobs also promise high wages immediately after college.
Compensation “is always going to be a factor” when making job decisions, “probably more in financial services than in other choices,” Branthover said.
Greenglass said that compensation was a contributing factor to his decision to go into banking, though it was not his primary motivation. He said he had always wanted to move to New York City after graduation – since Manhattan has high living costs, he said he liked “that banking would be able to provide a good, comfortable lifestyle.”
High compensation also inspires students to pursue consulting jobs, Ting said. He noted that “certain people at consulting firms, who are 25 or 26, get paid more than clients who are 40 years old. If you’re a kid coming out of college with loans, these jobs have good offers.”
Sanders said one major reason she decided to intern at McKinsey this summer is because she will be financing her medical school education. “I’m not going to lie – the money was really attractive as a means for saving money towards a larger goal,” she said.
Most students can be expected to be drawn to such high salaries, but Ting said s
tudents graduating from Brown and similar institutions are the best fit for the stressful jobs that accompany the high pay.
“The big banks hire from the Ivy League because those students are used to that environment, where you’re expected to bring your best to work every day and be paid very well for it,” he said. “Students who go to Ivy League schools are driven, and that kind of occupation matches their energy and principles towards life.”
But compensation should not be the decisive factor for students considering career paths, Branthover said.
“Most young people choose the money without a thought,” Branthover said. “When given an offer between two jobs – one that pays $60,000 and one that pays $100,000 – most people will go with the $100,000. But that might not be the right decision if you live in a city you don’t like or don’t have friends because you’re working too hard.”
People who choose jobs just for the money are usually miserable and leave the job or industry within a few years, Branthover added.
Berlin echoed Branthover’s sentiment about the need to have a motive besides compensation. Finance jobs require so much energy and dedication that “it isn’t worth it to do it if you don’t like it. You’re working 100 to 120 hours a week, so if you actually divide the amount you make by the amount you’re working, you’re not making that much money,” Berlin said.
Though Teach for America is a nonprofit organization, it also provides financial incentives to support its corps members and remain a viable option in the jobs market. “I openly tell people I would never want them to turn down this offer because you financially don’t think you can afford it,” Callado said.
The undergraduate loans of program participants are deferred while they are teaching, Callado said. In addition, TFA members’ Stafford Loans are reduced by 15 percent for each year the individual teaches. Newly accepted TFA members can also apply for transitional funding – either grants or interest-free loans – that helps cover expenses such as shipping furniture or buying a car, Callado said.
TFA also makes it possible for students to balance their nonprofit and business pursuits. The organization has partnerships with many well-known companies, including Bain, Google, General Electric, Deloitte and Goldman Sachs, that allow students to defer offers from those firms to teach for two years.
Callado said these partnerships provide graduates “the best of both worlds.”
The aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis may have significant effects on student job choices, said Pryor, the director of CIRP.
Though business has been the most popular major nationwide over the last 40 years, Pryor said survey results have shown a recent dip in business major interest among college first-years.
“The downturn in recent years … may very well be tied to some of the high profile ethical lapses in the financial industry we’ve seen in recent years,” Pryor said.
Parker, MIT’s career development director, said the number of MIT graduates headed to the financial services industry has dipped from a peak reached several years ago. Though she said the recent negative media coverage may have had some effect, the dip in the number of students headed to Wall Street has more to do with the reduced hiring at financial firms.
Levine said he has personally seen the influence of negative media coverage and populist movements like Occupy Wall Street on Brown students.
“Some students have seemed apologetic to me in the wake of the crisis about their decisions to work for the financial services industry,” Levine said, adding that he believes these responses indicate the profession has a public relations problem. “There’s a bit of uncomfortableness because of the portrayal of the industry.”
But Levine also said he thinks the current negative perception will do little in the long term to dissuade students from considering investment banking as an attractive career.
Branthover agreed, saying the prestige of Wall Street in particular is likely to remain high. There are still “tons of people interviewing” for finance positions, she said. “Wall Street has an allure. It’s a cool place to be. The companies are fantastic. The careers can be unbelievable.”
Branthover also said graduates will want to continue pursuing prestigious positions because their first job is the culmination of an entire education.
“When you and your parents have worked hard to get you to the right school, and you’ve worked really hard through your undergraduate and high school, just putting any company on your resume would be horrible,” she said.
“That first job out of Brown, Harvard Yale, wherever, is critical because it’s pulling together all those years of hard work,” she added.
What else is there?
Beyond the high compensation and peer pressure, the influx of graduates to a narrow range of industries may just be the byproduct of company need.
Consulting and finance firms have “found a way to make undergrads into great employees,” Byker said. “A lot of organizations do not see a great use for recent grads.”
Nonprofits often do not reach out to recent graduates – not only because they lack the financial means to do so, but also because they would sometimes prefer to hire employees several years out of college with work experience, said Iarocci, the CARE executive.
Byker said recent media attention has noted that consulting and finance firms take advantage of undergraduate students’ liberal arts educations.
But he said “it’s not rocket science what BCG does. They’ve found a way to use undergraduates in a way that’s good for them as an organization, and a way to make undergraduates good, useful employees.”
The “underlying problem is not that companies have figured out how to draw in a large share of smart undergraduates,” he added. “The problem is that other organizations have not.”